Last week, I speculated that the Reds might finally be forced to finally put Devin Mesoraco on the disabled list because they were poised to lose Joey Votto for several games for making contact with an umpire. It wasn't a major bump, and it seemed incidental, but I figured there's no way that the league could let that go without a major response.
On Friday, the league did respond, bringing down the hammer and suspending Votto and David Ortiz (who also recently made contact with an umpire during an argument) for...1 game? That can't be right, can it? Really? That's it? Huh. It turns out that I should have looked further into the history of players making incidental contact with umpires, because the penalties have been shockingly light.
This has been a problem for a while
Like Votto on Friday, back in 2013 Yadier Molina was ejected for throwing his equipment. Getting the face of the first base umpire, Molina made incidental contact, and was suspended for a single game. Dioner Navarro was only shelved for two games after bumping home plate ump Dan Bellino.
As Navarro also had a sore right leg, his suspension ultimately wasn't really much of a punishment. In 2012, the aforementioned Mesoraco was ejected and began poking Chad Fairchild in the chest protector. His suspension was ultimately just two games. And, of course, in 2012, Brett Lawrie threw his helmet in the direction of Bill Miller. The helmet bounced off the ground and hit Miller. But Lawrie was only suspended for four games.
Last year, Jonathan Papelbon was suspended for seven games for making contact with an umpire, and just a week ago Blue Jays hitting coach Brook Jacoby was suspended 14 games—almost a tenth of the season—for confronting an umpire in the hallway on the way to the clubhouse. But these are exceptions to baseball's relative apathy.
Umpires must be free from intimidation
Admittedly, nobody much likes umpires, and God knows that they have been on the delivering end of some truly awful performances and behaviors on the diamond for which they don't receive nearly enough oversight. No one buys a ticket to go to see the guy calling balls and strikes. Of course, no one buys a ticket to a baseball game in the hopes that a real row will break out between Lloyd McClendon and Joe West either.
Still, the leniency being shown here by the league is baffling. Umpires should be particularly off limits to physical violence, threats, and intimidation. They should be protected from any implication that their calls and decisions are influenced by forces outside of what happens on the field. Umpires are the arbiters charged with keeping the integrity of each game. The threat of violence greatly undermines that integrity.
Umpires need to be able and willing to deescalate a situation, rather than responding to the abuse they take in kind. Far too often, the response from contentious umps has been to give as good as they get. That's inexcusable. However, it is also unacceptable that umpires can be bumped and pushed and prodded with relative impunity. Votto, Ortiz, and the rest of the players and managers who would make contact with an umpire should be sent a message that this behavior is intolerable going forward. Umpires' personal space is inviolable.
We demand accountability from our umpires. It's time to expect that from our players as well, and to stop viewing arguments spiraling into physical violence as entertainment.